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Roles change as Rams shoot for higher goals

November 19, 2004|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - Danley Shank earned himself a field promotion.

"Last year, Mike Jennings was our Batman and Danley was Robin," Shepherd University basketball coach Ken Tyler said. "This year, Danley is Batman."

Holy starring role! With the graduation of Jennings, Shank gets the keys to the Batmobile and will become one of the driving forces behind Shepherd's offense when the Rams open the season tonight by hosting the Clarion Hotel Tip-Off Tournament.

Shank, the Chambersburg, Pa., graduate who had a breakout season for the Rams as a sophomore while playing out of position in the power forward spot, will assume the shooting forward position that became the main source of scoring when Jennings was on the team.

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"He's where Jennings was now," Tyler said. "Danley is a hard athlete to categorize. He is our best all-round athlete and is our hardest worker. We felt that he was the most improved player in Division II last year. He will be more comfortable on the wing. This year, he's Batman, now we need a Robin."

Jennings averaged 21.4 points and 6.8 rebounds as the catalyst that led Shepherd to a 17-11 record, including 12-6 in the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, and a trip to the conference quarterfinals in Charleston, W.Va. Shank grabbed all-WVIAC honors by adding 18.2 points and 7.5 points a game out of the power forward slot after accumulating eight points and 11 rebounds in his freshman year.

"I try to stay away from wearing tights," Shank said about being Batman.

Still, the 6-5 junior is ready to cinch up his utility belt to do all he can to keep Shepherd moving among the conference's elite.

"It's all going to be a little adjustment," Shank said. "I'll be playing against more players my size instead of guys who were a few more pounds than me. But really, being a 3 (small forward) or 4 (power forward) is interchangeable in our offense. Jennings set a huge standard and if I look to fill his shoes, I'm setting myself up for a huge letdown. I'm not the same kind of player. I'll have to rely more on my teammates."

If Shank will be Batman, the rest of the Rams might have to be considered The Incredibles.

Tyler has placed his returning players with some key additions through transfers and junior colleges in order to move a step further in the development of the Shepherd program. Now in his fourth year, Tyler has big things in mind.

"We are very excited about the season that's about to unfold," Tyler said. "The fourth year of our program is very important. We have our imprint on the team and these are all our players now. Last year was extremely important, especially when you haven't been a winning program for 10 years. Now it's going to be a new challenge. Now we aren't that 'Nowhere to go but up' program anymore. Now we need to go from being pretty good to true contender in the conference and make that step to the national level."

A move like that will take Shepherd's four seniors and Shank meshing together quickly.

Tyler would like senior guard Brady Catlett, a Hedgesville graduate, to make up the other half of Shepherd's Dynamic Duo after averaging 11.3 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. Shepherd's other four seniors are Ron Rheinhart, the Rams' "utility player" and Tyler's first recruit, and big men Esosa Imoisili and Matt Slaninka.

"Brady had a solid year last year," Tyler said of Catlett, who transferred from New Hampshire last season. "He is one tough matchup because his size and strength allows him to post up inside. He's our best postup player, but he can shoot from the outside and hit the 3. He is poised to have an all-conference year. With Danley and Brady, we feel like we have the best wing combination in the league."

Imoisili will start at center for Shepherd after leading in the WVC and finishing seventh in the nation for Division II players in blocked shots. Slaninka, a 7-4 transfer from the University of Maryland, continues with the ankle problems which have plagued him in the 3 1/2 years he's been with Shepherd, but could be ready to play by Dec. 15 game at Mercyhurst.

Moving into Shank's former power forward slot will be 6-6 Darren Stackhouse, a transfer from Garrett Community College.

"He's left-handed and he reminds me of a Stacey Augmon-type of player," Tyler said. "He doesn't have a great shot, but he can get it up to the rim, but he's a tough defender and rebounder."

Shepherd's biggest question mark is at point guard, where they lost incumbent Ross Mitchell to ACL injuries in both knees, which will prevent him from ever playing competitively again. The duties will fall into the hands of Chad Myers, who was Shepherd's top 3-point and free throw shooter last year, and freshman Thomas Carr.

The Rams will have their work cut out for them with their early schedule. Pfieffer, Gannon and Assumption - all high pedigree Division II programs - will be playing this weekend in the Clarion Tournament. Shepherd will also travel to the Florida Southern Tournament for another taste of the elite in hopes of grooming itself into a national program.

"That's what we are trying to do. It's the fourth year of the program and it's time that we step out," Tyler said. "We might have to steal a page from (football coach Monte Cater) and keep an eye on the conference section of our schedule. Our goal is to win 20 games and get to Charleston for the tournament and win a game there. If we can do that, we are in the semifinals and anything can happen. If you reach the finals, it's an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament."

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